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Three Weeks in Traffic Hell

Posted by Johnine Larsen on October 8, 2018
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It’s official: on January 11, 2019, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will close for good. Three weeks later, the new SR-99 toll tunnel will open. But in that three-week gap, when 90,000 daily commuters have to find alternate routes, things are going to get ugly. Very ugly. Here’s the most helpful information we could find about how to minimize the traffic catastrophe:


What to expect

Traffic throughout downtown Seattle will be awful, and traffic throughout the rest of the region will be bad, as well.

The closure of SR-99 will divert traffic to I-5 and side streets, over-stressing an already traffic-choked system.

Rush hour, as a result, will start earlier and end later (6–10 a.m. and 3–7 p.m.).


What to do

Avoid rush hour (6–10 a.m. and 3–7 p.m.), and, if possible, adjust your work hours so you commute when no else is commuting.

Commute via public transit and park and rides, water taxis, vanpools, or walking. There are a few details you should know about those greener, traffic-friendly transit options:

  • RapidRide C (connects downtown and West Seattle) will move to surface streets, which will add 10 minutes to the ride from Alaska Junction to 3rd and Pike (increasing from the current 25 minutes to 35 minutes).
  • The restricted 3rd Ave bus corridor is transit-only all day, so all bus routes that pass through there shouldn’t face any congestion.
  • Uber and Lyft have carpooling options if a cheaper ride-share service won’t work for you. You might also consider bussing one way and using an app-based rideshare the other way, depending on what traffic is doing when you need to hit the road.

Get an ORCA card. If you do use public transit, an ORCA card will save you time and will make transfers paper-less and automatic.

SDOT suggests bicycling as a transportation alternative, but that sounds terrible in the middle of winter. If you do bicycle and combine that with public transit, make sure you know how to load your bicycle onto the bus (it’s harder than you might expect, especially when people are waiting on you).



What do the pros say? The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) created a handout for how to adjust your commute and travel habits.

How long will it take to get where you’re going? Get a travel time estimate here, updated in real time with an eye to traffic behavior in the future—not just traffic data at your time of departure.

What does traffic look like across Seattle? See a traffic map here, with traffic cameras so you can see conditions in detail for yourself.


What SDOT will do

While all of us are trying to survive traffic hell, the city will be working hard, too. SDOT and other organizations will do their best to facilitate alternative traffic solutions by focusing on:

Transportation system monitoring and real-time management. SDOT will have a 24/7 operations center constantly finding ways to get as many cars through as many intersections as possible. It will also coordinate with the Seattle Police Department to place police officers at important intersections to help drivers get through. They have said that they will prioritize transit over private vehicles.

Manage construction projects in the public right-of-way. SDOT will put strict limits on what streets constructions projects can close during this three-week SR-99 closure.

Work with commuters, employers, visitors, and Seattleites on their commute—and SDOT isn’t the only one doing this. Commute Seattle is offering free commute planning for downtown employers. Some options they’re encouraging include letting employees work from home or rentable co-working spaces near employees’ homes, shifting business hours to avoid rush hour, and offering unlimited OCRA cards to their employees.